Ever since Jon Krakauer's best-selling Into Thin Air, which set the benchmark for Everest disaster stories, there have been a slew of stories about the tragedies emanating from the mountain the Nepalese call Sagarmatha.
When three world class alpinists arrived at Base camp last month, their intentions a closely guarded secret, it seemed that at last 2013 might offer a different Everest story — 'real' climbers tackling a new route, something that is all too rare on the mountain. And without oxygen. (Of 6,000 total ascents, only about 150 have been without bottled O2.) What better timing, on the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing's first ascent of the mountain?
That didn't work out.
The three climbers were Ueli Steck, the so-called Swiss Machine, known for his lightning solo speed ascents, Himalayan veteran Simone Moro, who has made 43 trips to Nepal, and climber and photographer Jonathan Griffith, one of the most active climbers in the Chamonix valley.
At the time of writing they were making their way back to Europe after a violent confrontation with a mob of Sherpas after a disagreement on the Lhotse Face escalated. It resulted in them literally fleeing for their lives down the Khumbu icefall.
"We only lived thanks to some very brave people, we felt for sure that we were going to get stoned to death," reported Griffith on his Facebook page.
One of those brave people was the American climber Melissa Arnot who intervened to warn the group that an attack was imminent.
"She saved my life," Steck told Swiss reporters.
The confrontation occured after the trio got into an argument with Sherpas on the Lhotse face. Everest tradition dictates that the Sherpas are left alone to fix ropes for guided clients.
The three claim they kept a safe distance and at no point put the Sherpas in danger. But a dispute happened when they crossed the Sherpas' ropes and there was an angry exchange of words. That might have been it. But back at Camp 2 they were set upon by a mob. Steck was struck in the head by someone holding a rock. Moro was attached by someone with a pocket knife.
"There was a short period where we all thought we were going to get stoned to death," reported Griffith.
The three ran for their lives down an unmarked route of the Khumbu icefall — putting themselves at risk from hidden crevasses.
At Everest Base Camp the following day the groups made their peace and the Sherpas gave assurances for their safety. But it was not enough.
"My trust is gone," says Steck. "I could not go back to this mountain." The three aborted their summit plans and left, leaving everyone to ponder on what really happened up there. And why. Many believe the cause is a deep-rooted problem that's been brewing for years between the Sherpa community and the rich western clients who come to Everest. But Steck is not so sure.
"We will never know the answer," he blogged.
For now, he has taken some personal time out from high-level mountaineering to re-charge his personal batteries.
He is not the only one in shock over the whole incident. "Mountains and climbing should and do cross borders, cultures and religion," blogged the British Everest guide Kenton Cool, who's summited the mountain 10 times."It's why this 'fight' saddens me."
It's a reaction that will speak for many.